Judaism in the Eyes of a Non-Jew.
A non-Jew accidentally discovers the meaning and wisdom of Torah.
It all started as mild curiosity two and a half years ago, a few months after my 22nd birthday. I had made an Orthodox Jewish friend online (in a Harry Potter fan community, of all places) who one Friday had offhandedly said to me, “I can’t chat with you tomorrow because it’s Shabbos.”
“What’s Shabbos?” I asked.
Little did I know that that one question would be the first of thousands. My questions at first were all basic things: questions about holidays, keeping kosher and other traditions. I thought it was phenomenally interesting, learning about a whole different culture and belief system that I had never encountered before, the Philippines being home only to a handful of Jews.
None of this will mean anything to me until I try them out for myself.
Everything was going nice and smoothly until one day I thought to myself: None of this will mean anything to me until I try them out for myself.
So I started with a “small” thing. What would it feel like to say brachos, blessings? I picked one to experiment with: Asher yatzar, the blessing one says after going to the bathroom. I promised myself that from this day on, every time I left the bathroom and washed my hands, I would say this blessing. It felt silly at first. But slowly, it began to sink in and eventually I started reciting the blessing with a smile on my face. Hey, my body is working! Thank you, God!
I started to learn more blessings, sticking to the simpler, more “general” ones and those that I felt comfortable saying as a non-Jew. I said Modeh Ani first thing in the morning as I opened my eyes, and delighted saying each of the morning blessings that were applicable to me. I recited the bedtime Shema with as much intention as I could muster. Eventually I just started thanking God for everything, including every time my car would start properly. The Jewish blessings were – ARE amazing. I was suddenly noticing all the little things I was doing throughout the day. They made me realize just how many blessings I received every single moment – let alone every single day! And it just drove home the fact that all of this came from the Almighty. All I can say is thank you, thank you, thank you, Hashem.
Then I thought that maybe I was just lucky that I happened to pick blessings to start to put into practice. It was time to select another mitzvah to try out. I experimented and had my own “pseudo Shabbos” which simply consisted of me shutting my cellphone off for one night a week. After several weeks, I couldn’t believe how much those few disconnected hours affected me psychologically and emotionally. I actually began to look forward to that one night of mine.
It also taught me focus. It became easier to be productive during the week, knowing I had a set time later on that I could spend focusing solely on recharging, reconnecting with myself and God, and enjoying my family.
That same thinking eventually spread to other parts of my life also. For example, I became less impatient with my little niece and instead of counting down the time until I could send her back to her mom, I began being more present and enjoying our time together.
I began to appreciate the amazing impact these simple actions were having on my life. It was crazy and intense and I wanted more. So I began squeezing in learning Torah every spare moment of the day and sometimes stayed up an extra hour or two into the night. I read reams of articles on Aish.com and I listened to Torah classes from Torah Anytime in the car while driving and managed to listen to two to three classes a week. I actually started hoping to get stuck in traffic.
I learned about the concept of tikkun olam, gained a deeper understanding of free will, and studied lashon hara (gossip) and its effects on the world. I slowly adjusted my attitude towards happiness, deciding to be happy right now instead of “when so and so happens.” I decided I should start wearing skirts more often and to make sure I didn’t back out on my promise, I picked out nearly all of my jeans out of my closet and donated them away. I started hanging out at the local Chabad house where I’d have conversations with the rebbetzin about Noahide laws.
I was reading Psalms, giving tzedakah, and actively looking out for daily opportunities to do chessed (acts of kindness). I started to understand that I live in God’s world; He makes the rules, not me. And I continued experimenting: I tried my best not to listen to music during the Three Weeks leading up to Tisha B’Av, I did some soul searching during Elul and drew up a list of resolutions for Rosh Hashanah. I also began exercising more regularly, being more careful about what I ate. By this time I knew that as important as it was to grow spiritually, it was also important to stay physically healthy. In short, I began doing things purposefully.
I began to understand that I am my choices, that I am whatever cannot be taken away from me. As one speaker put it, “The only thing that is truly mine is that which I gave away.” That concept turned my priorities upside down and over time, I went from looking for what I could get to looking for what I could give. I learned that God controls absolutely everything, and every single encounter and experience I have every single day is a message from Him. Related to that is the fact that all I can control are my reactions to these events.
These lessons made me a much calmer person and I spent more time studying and analyzing what God could possibly be trying to tell me, my reactions, and what I could improve within myself – rather than dwelling on how annoying that other person was. I learned that if it’s not painful, you aren’t growing. So I began to push myself more frequently out of my comfort zone, looking for people who could give me constructive criticism and solid advice as opposed to people who would simply compliment me. I slowly began going for the harder choice because I knew they would pay off more in the long run.
Sometimes I can’t believe that I discovered the power of Torah by playing an online Harry Potter game. I am constantly thanking Hashem for giving me the opportunity to go through this journey.
The Torah isn’t only meant to be learned, it is meant to be lived. And the absolute best part about it is that it works.
My journey has been made up of hundreds of baby steps spread out over weeks, months, and years. It isn’t as black and white as this narrative makes it sound. There were countless times I took one step forward and two steps back. But I have learned that the most important thing in a spiritual journey is not strength or intelligence, but persistence.
I do not know where I am headed or where all this will end. I am currently opting to still remain a non-Jew. All I am truly certain of is that my life has become so much more meaningful since I began taking Torah seriously and that I don’t ever want to stop learning it. Torah has taught me to open my eyes and see what's really important, to stop wasting my time, money, and energy on things that simply do not and will not ever matter because they are only fleeting. The Torah isn’t only meant to be learned, it is meant to be lived. And the absolute best part about it is that it works. Don’t take my word for it. Try it yourself.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the many Rabbis and Rebbetzins at Aish.com, TorahAnytime.com, the Accidental Talmudist page on Facebook, and Chabad Manila. May the Almighty continue to bless you all!